Dr. Solly Amadhila: Setting the standard

SETTING high standards is everyone’s dream even though maintaining them can be a puzzle to many.

But Dr. Solly Amadhila has no problem with standards at all. He actually has a passion for the highest quality in everything he does, small wonder he has no regrets in his 32 year career.

He has been at the helm of Rhino Park Private Hospital as Managing Director for the past 14 years. But that is beside the case.

Born Salomo Natangwe Amadhila 59 years ago this month, Dr. Solly is a man of firsts. He is the first and so far, the only Namibian born paediatrician. Moreover, he was Namibia’s first Permanent Secretary of Health and Social Services at the attainment of independence, a position he held until 1995.

“After my five year contract with the Ministry came to an end, I heard that some people who learnt that I was joining Rhino Park Hospital were of the opinion that I had probably ‘taken’ some money from government while I was Permanent Secretary, but it’s a different story altogether and you will find out how,” said Amadhila.

The interview coincided with his 6 August birthday hence nurses, assistants as well as his 89-year old mother in Ondangwa constantly interrupted the interview with well-wishing messages, either through the phone or walking in with presents.

This, for a man whose job specialises in the care of children from the day they are born until the age of 12.

A lifetime of health records compiled by a paediatrician follows any patient into adulthood - records which provide valuable insight into the patient’s health history.

Becoming a paediatrician was not a complicated process for Dr. Amadhila but it was by no means an easy one either. After footing the 10km journey to Oshitayi Primary School, for his entire junior school, he went to Ongwediva Training College from Standard 6 to 8.

There, he had become everyone’s envy as the fame of his prowess in physical science captivated the school.

“I was very good in those subjects. It was the time that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and it inspired me more to excel in those fields. Unfortunately, I was forced to drop the subjects when our science teacher moved to Windhoek, Augustinum High School.

I had to take Maths and Biology instead and when I learnt of people like Dr. Naftal Hamata, I was compelled to keep up the same standards I had from my previous subjects, as medicine was now my destiny,” says the man who did not know until this month, that he was born a day-after Neil Armstrong’s 21st birthday..

Desire to study medicine and receiving the financial support to do so, were two distinct things as Dr. Amadhila came to realise. The Owambo Administration was not convinced that the young Amadhila and his fellow student Sam Heita, now Dr. Heita would make it in medicine.

“It needed the motivation from our school teachers to convince the Administration,” he says.

Amadhila thus joined the University of Natal in South Africa, 1971 where he was hugely influenced by the Black Consciousness movement and to this day admits that Steve Biko had a direct impact in widening and deepening his political knowledge.

He returned after a seven year study stint in South Africa with Dr. Filemon Amaambo and asked to work in Windhoek, but the request was declined.

“We purposely asked to go to Okakarara but were denied too because the occupiers wanted people from the north, only in the north, nowhere else,” Amadhila explains.

They did their internship at the Oshakati Hospital in 1978 where the majority of the physicians were army doctors.

“The armed struggle was escalating that time and the Medical Superintendent ordered that although doctors should treat everyone fairly, we should report to the police any patients we suspect to be PLAN fighters. Dr. Amaambo and I resisted this order and even wrote protest letters arguing that it was the duty of the police not doctors. Being interns, we thought the hospital was going to fire us, but for some reason they did not, although we remained top suspects.”

Coincidence brought him in the paediatrics department at Oshakati Hospital where he helped one Professor Hesseling with the Onyalayi Study Project.

It was at the completion of the project that Hesseling offered to assist his understudy to secure a place at Stellenbosch University for Paediatric studies.

“It was strange for my parents that I could go and study at a university which was purely Afrikaner and led by the fiery John Voster. But in the end, I convinced my father and in 1981, I was admitted at Tygerberg Hospital in South Africa to study Paediatrics.”

He returned to Oshakati Hospital in 1986 as the first black paediatrician where he worked until 1989, before building the Ministry of Health and Social Services at independence.

His house was constantly under surveillance from the colonial regime but that did not stop him from assisting wounded PLAN fighters. He remembers how he smuggled out two units of blood from the hospital in 1989, to treat a wounded soldier after the April 1 attack on the guerrillas.

“I was operating perfectly and above standard, they only suspected that I was rogue but never had the evidence to prove it. I could go out of the country on SWAPO missions or be sent to assist wounded guerrillas but no one could verify my activities,” he says.

Setting up of the Ministry of Health was made relatively easy for Amadhila with the assistance from neighbouring countries and he specifically mentions Dr. Daniel Makuto, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health in Zimbabwe, whom he says, helped him considerably.

“I needed something to do to keep up the standard of where I was coming from; I joined Christo van Niekerk (hospital founder) as a business partner for Rhino Park Private Hospital.

It was tough. I had to go back to Tygerberg Hospital in January of 1996 to reacquaint myself with the action and some of the latest developments in the field, before taking over the action in Namibia. My first monthly income from my practise was N$2300 which was not even enough to pay my receptionist. To survive the first three months after I left the Ministry of Health, my partner, Van Niekerk, agreed to help me meet my financial obligations with an agreement that I would pay back in future, which I did. That’s how I survived.”

Rhino Park Private hospital has since graduated from a day hospital to a fully-fledged hospital in no time and is today among Namibia’s best private hospitals of repute with 110 beds, latest medical equipment and a staff compliment of 160.

“The challenge at Rhino Park Hospital now is to maintain a well-trained and adequate nursing staff. There is a shortage of nurses in Namibia generally. We also want to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship between health providers and medical insurance providers. Medical insurance providers are under pressure to survive. They are not able to sustain the increase in health expenditure. Our hospital is busy establishing mutual relationship with medical insurers. We are also continually trying to improve our infrastructure so that our patients feel at home,” he says.

Recently, Rhino Park Private Hospital opened an N$30 million wing comprising of a 15 bed maternity and 18 bed paediatric wards. The hospital now has two labour wards, 15 post-natal beds with a theatre, one neonatal unit with an adjacent ICU and eight ICU cots, among others.

Amadhila has scaled many ladders in the process, besides being the Managing Director of the hospital. He is also the Medical Superintendent of Rhino Park Private Hospital, he runs a medical consultancy at Katutura hospital, is Head of Department for Paediatrics at Windhoek Central and Katutura Hospitals, Chairs of the Sub-Committee of training of Medical Interns for the Ministry, Committee Member of the Polio Eradication, Steering Committee Member for the establishment of the UNAM Medical School, Patron of Oshigambo High School and Special Adviser to businessman Dr. Frans Indongo.

“My being is attributed to all the Namibian parents, friends and relatives who have supported me by showing their love to me through various means, financial and spiritually. I love my country, and it is their love that has made me who I am and to love my country.”

Inspired by Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, Amadhila confesses he did not go into exile or held a gun, but participated in the efforts to liberate the country, in a unique way.

He admits, “I was hurt when Andimba was arrested because we used to go to his place to buy candies as youngsters and his arrest motivated me to do anything within my profession to fight for the cause that Andimba was arrested for. I swore not to be a spectator.” he says after revealing that together with Van Niekerk they are both at the forefront of Hartlief Corporation Limited, Namibia’s multifaceted meat manufacturing company.

He adds, “I am nearing 60 years, therefore it is necessary that we have a succession plan at both Hartlief and Rhino Park Hospital. We are already working on it, for young Namibians to carry over the vision of the standards we have set and maintained.”

Despite all the success that has followed the hospital and Amadhila’s career, he remains apprehensive about the issue of HIV transmission to babies.

According to him, there has been an upward trend in infant mortality rate in Namibia due to transmission, although positive that with the introduction of the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMCTC), there will be a reduction in morbidity and mortality in children.

“Also, the contamination of environments is leading to Gastro-enteritis which leads to morbidity and mortality. More worrying to me is the emerging malnutrition, kwashiorkor especially, mainly because of the economic situation. Most of the children come from disadvantaged families, those without a breadwinner and mainly from the informal settlements as well as commercial farms. Perhaps it is time to go the Botswana way. Set up kitchens for children in disadvantaged areas. I personally used to be against this idea, but I think it is time we consider it. There are mothers out there who don’t have milk, mothers with twins or triplets who resort to diluting milk. Malnutrition is an emerging force to reckon with among child illnesses in this country. In Katutura hospital alone, we admit four to five children every week, with malnutrition.”

Specifically, Amadhila has a responsibility to explain illness, treatment plans and other aspects of the care of the child to parents in a way they can easily understand. This is extremely important because parents with a seriously ill child must fully understand the illness and treatment options in order to make informed decisions. A good paediatrician also has a great deal of compassion.

This is often referred to as, ‘bedside manners,’ and refers to the way in which practitioners interact with the patient and family members.

He is very modest about his family life though.

“While working at Oshakati Hospital, I befriended this nurse whom I considered the best in Namibia when it comes to inserting drips. This girl was just good in inserting drips on patients. I have never seen someone with such artistry in that area in Namibia to this day. She began inserting drips for my patients and our friendship grew. Today she is my wife. We got married in 1979 and we have three children.”

His first born is a Chartered Accountant with Deloitte and Touché, while his first daughter Ndafu is a clinical psychologist in private practise and the last born, Nelago, named after her mother, is a Political and International Relations Master student at Rhodes University in South Africa.

His wife Justine-Nelago works in the Ministry of Health where she is involved in the Human Resource Development.

The Amadhilas have had a rotating trophy at Oshigambo High School for the Best HIGSCE Student Award in Science and Mathematics subjects, which carries a cash prize of N$2000. The award has been running over the past decade.

“It’s all in the name of setting up the standard for the present and for the future,” he concludes.PF